TOOELE COUNTY — The United States Department of Agriculture announced Thursday that farmers and ranchers in all but four counties in Utah may be eligible for low-interest emergency loans from the government.
The announcement was made because of current snowpack conditions and low water levels in reservoirs across the West. Despite the announcement, farmers are preparing for a very dry season.
"It's going to be very hard," said rancher Leland Hogan. "The reservoirs this last fall were at the lowest level I've ever seen in my lifetime."
Hogan is also President of the Utah Farm Bureau, and he said water — or the lack of it — is all anyone in his line of work is talking about.
"Fire and droughts over the last few years have put a lot of our smaller agricultural producers out of business," he said.
And it appears it's going to get worse. When a NASA satellite photo from a year ago was compared to one from Thursday, you could see the snowpack is not where it was last year in the West, including Utah.
The USDA designated 12 Utah counties as a primary disaster area because of drought conditions. Farmers and ranchers in these counties can apply for low-interest loans from the government to cover expected farming losses, which could reach 70 percent in many cases.
"We haven't even seen the heat of the summer yet. This is a serious situation," said Larry Lewis, Utah Department of Agriculture.
Lewis said even though it's nice the government is offering low-interest loans, it's not really what farmers need right now.
"In drought conditions, they're not making very much money in the first place, and so what they need is grants, not a loan they have to pay back when they may not have the crops to pay back anything with anyway," Lewis said.
Farmers and ranchers have eight months to apply for those loans if they want them. Of course, there is still plenty of time in the winter months to build the snowpack up, but hydrologists believe Utah will need a lot more snow and rain to make a difference to just keep the levels where they're at currently.
All counties are available for assistance except Daggett, Sevier, Summit and Uintah Counties.